Understanding Sexual Harassment in New York

What is Considered Sexual Harassment in New York?

Every employee is entitled to a work environment free from any type of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is a form of gender-based discrimination that may target men or women in the workplace. The harassment may also come from an individual of the same-sex as the victim.

The definition of sexual harassment in New York is similar to the federal definition. Sexual harassment involves any unwelcome sexual conduct that creates a hostile work environment or is used as a basis for making employment decisions. The harassment may be physical, verbal or visual. Additionally, the harassment does not have to occur in person and may be communicated through text message or email exchanges.

The New York Human Rights Law governs sexual harassment claims and distinguishes between two forms of harassment: “hostile workplace” and “quid pro quo.” A “hostile workplace” is created when any unwanted conduct interferes with an employee’s ability to do his or her job. This conduct is not limited to unsolicited physical contact. Offensive remarks, jokes or sexual gestures may give rise to a sexual harassment action.

Another form of sexual harassment is referred to as “quid pro quo.” Generally, “quid pro quo” means “this for that.” In the workplace, “quid pro quo” harassment occurs when a supervisor offers an employee something with the expectation of receiving something in return. This may include a promotion, raise or favorable job assignments. “Quid pro quo” harassment is limited to supervisors and managers. While co-workers and even clients may be guilty of sexual harassment, only supervisors and managers have the authority to offer these benefits.

Even a single incident may give rise to a sexual harassment claim, depending on the severity of the event. However, isolated teasing and careless comments may not be sufficient to prove sexual harassment. When a pattern of hostility is established, the conduct may be deemed unlawful.

Federal law prohibits gender discrimination in any form, including sexual harassment, under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handles sexual harassment claims. The EEOC, like New York, distinguishes between “quid pro quo” harassment and “hostile work environment” harassment.

The New York Human Rights Law was recently amended to apply to all employers. Prior to the amendment, sexual harassment laws only applied to employers with more than four employees. As of January 19, 2016, all employers in New York may be subjected to sexual harassment claims. Federal law, on the other hand, requires a company employ at least 15 employees in order to file a sexual harassment complaint.

Both New York and federal law make it illegal to retaliate against any employee who reports sexual harassment. Retaliation may come in the form of a demotion, or even termination of employment. However, an employee is not required to prove retaliation to bring a sexual harassment claim. New York State and City laws allow a victim to bring a claim against both the individual and the company. Sometimes the harassment may rise to the criminal level if it involves actual touching or coerced sexual acts